Monday, May 28, 2007

Book notes: Constitutional Chaos and The Constitution in Exile, by Andrew P. Napolitano

Over the past few days, I've read two books by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst. Napolitano was a Superior Court judge in New Jersey, and taught constitutional law and jurisprudence at Seton Hall Law School.

As a judge, he got a front row seat to some dirty dealing by cops and prosecutors, and it helped to change his mind about how much faith a person can reasonably put in government. He builds on that theme, and more, in his 2004 book Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks Its Own Laws. I have decidedly mixed feelings about some of his arguments and conclusions, but I'd still recommend that anyone interested in current events, history, theories of government, or justice give it a go. (Parents: the judge writes in a civilized fashion, but he does cover some uncivilized subjects and he's not shy about taking unpopular views on some controversial subjects. I'd suggest you preview the book before handing it to your children.)

A few, scant parts of The Constitution in Exile: How the Federal Government has Seized Power by Rewriting the Supreme Law of the Land, 2006, are a rehash or update of the earlier book, but much of it amounts to a History of Constitutional Law course, complete with case studies. He also has some suggestions on where we might try to go from here. Again, I have mixed feelings about some of his arguments and some of his conclusions, but add me to the growing list of people who say that whether you agree with him or not, it would probably be a good idea to read the book. The same parental warning applies here as for the first book, but if you're willing to tackle the rough spots and opinions that might be contrary to your own, this one might make a good supplemental reading book for older kids studying government and history.

And if you think you know what the judge's positions on various topics are going to be because he works for supposedly-conservative Fox News, think again. If anything, I suspect more 'conservatives' than 'liberals' will be upset by both of these books. But, then again, if he's right, we ought to be. I might warn you, President Abraham Lincoln gets called on the carpet here, along with FDR and a few other people, including President George W. Bush. But, then again, if Napolitano's right, the being called on the carpet is called for. (On the other hand, if you're thinking you might want to vote for Mrs. Clinton, you might be distressed by his accounting in the first book of things that happened on her husband's watch.)

I'm not saying Napolitano's necessarily right. But in several instances, I'm not sure he's wrong, either. I'm planning to do a bit more study before I decide what to 'buy' from this author, but at least he moves the political arguments of our day over to discussions of what's constitutional and what isn't, and what's a natural right and what isn't, instead of the mostly partisan stand-offs and shout-downs that are rather more common, unfortunately.

That's not to say the man's genteel. He's a gutsy writer who calls 'em as he sees 'em, names attached. That's real names, not name-calling. He doesn't stoop to the cheap tricks currently popular with some political commentators, nor does he play to one side or the other of the political spectrum.


Michelle said...

Of course the man's not genteel - he's from Jersey! I've not read his books, but I've always found him interesting when I've had the opportunity to watch him on Fox News. No, he doesn't hem, haw or hedge which is refreshingly different from most commentators in the news, but I've not seen him belligerent or mean or crass, depsite his lack of fine social graces. An opinion worth listening to, even if one does not always agree.

Kathryn Judson said...

Hey, Michelle, Hi! I'm always glad to have you stop by. (And I love the 'of course the man's not genteel, he's from Jersey' quip, although, being a Westerner born and bred I'll have to take your word for it.) :)

I'd have to agree with you on your last point. I do disagree with him on several things (here and there we seem to subscribe to a different logic, if nothing else), but I do consider his an opinion worth listening to, if for no other reason than to force me to re-examine what I think I know. Both these books have me taking a good, hard look at several things I thought I knew, but now am not so sure about. I appreciate an author who can do that.